12:05, June 27 109 0 theguardian.com

2019-06-27 12:05:09
US supreme court blocks 2020 census citizenship question – for now

The Trump administration will not be able to move ahead with its original, highly controversial plan to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 US census, after the supreme court on Thursday upheld a lower court decision rejecting the commerce department’s stated justification for doing so.

The ruling represented a setback for the president – though perhaps only a temporary one.

The commerce department might have time to advance alternative reasoning for including the citizenship question on the census, resulting in its inclusion, analysts warned.


In a 5-4 ruling authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the court said that it would not be unconstitutional for the Trump administration to include a citizenship question on the census. Pro-democracy advocates have warned that doing so would suppress participation among immigrant-aligned population and disenfranchise Democratic-leaning voters.

But the high court said that in this case, the stated reason by commerce secretary Wilbur Ross for including the citizenship question – to obtain better data to enforce the Voting Rights Act, the civil rights-era legislation against voter discrimination – was not credible.

“We cannot ignore the disconnect between the decision made and the explanation given,” Roberts wrote. “If judicial review is to be more than an empty ritual, it must demand something better than the explanation offered for the action taken in this case…

“We do not hold that the agency decision here was substantively invalid. But agencies must pursue their goals reasonably. Reasoned decision-making under the Administrative Procedure Act calls for an explanation for agency action. What was provided here was more of a distraction.”

Democrats praised the ruling. “This is just one milestone on a much longer path to an accurate 2020 census,” said Sean Rankin, executive director of the Democratic Attorneys General Association, whose members helped take on the Trump administration in the case. “Democratic attorneys general will continue to fight alongside community organizers, partner organizations and advocates to make sure every person is counted free from intimidation. We will never let discrimination and fear win.”

Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, said: “The Trump administration’s lies went so far that even this supreme court had to say no. If this leads to a result with no citizenship question, that would be a very welcome outcome, and it would also preserve the status quo. This should have been an easy case, and in the end, it was.”

Citing the US census bureau’s own research, plaintiffs in the case had argued that the unprecedented inclusion of such a question was likely to lead to a significant undercount in the American population. Such an undercount, which would mostly affect minority immigrant communities, could benefit Republicans at the ballot box, according to political research unearthed during the case.

Although Donald Trump had voiced support for the question’s inclusion, the supreme court’s ruling will lead to further questions about the conduct of Ross, who oversees the US Census Bureau.

Internal documents, released as the court cases continued, showed Ross lobbied the US justice department to ask his office for a citizenship question despite knowing of the undercount effects. Lower courts found Ross had violated both the Census Act and the Administrative Procedures Act in his handling of the affair.

Democrats have also accused Ross of lying to Congress during his testimony over the affair.